I will definitely be using these in the future when I revise my books, to be sure that everything's in place--and more importantly, that I, the eternal pantser, understand what's happening. Even if you've got your plot in great shape, knowing why it works and what the pieces are can help you throughout revision to maintain that stability and hold onto your theme. I realized when I looked over these structures that I had, indeed, naturally fallen into the right pattern for If You Prick Us, but seeing that was an incredible help as I rewrote.
So here they are: a few different ways of plotting out your book so that it flows.
More than anything, [main character] wants [goal or desire]. But [MC] has a flaw: [whatever internal problem may keep the MC from the goal]. When [inciting incident], [MC's] world is turned upside down. Now [what the MC needs to do to overcome the inciting incident/external conflict]. Along the way, [what the MC learns that helps him/her understand his/her flaw]. When faced with [climactic conflict], [MC] has to [make a choice or do a thing that overcomes both external and internal problems] [or else something bad].
I'll use The Hunger Games as the sample throughout this post (so, spoilers for the first Hunger Games book and movie), like so:
More than anything, Katniss Everdeen wants to keep her little sister, Prim, safe. But Katniss has a flaw: she has trouble putting her faith in anyone else. When Prim is chosen to compete in the Hunger Games, a government-sponsored fight to the death on public television, Katniss's world is turned upside down. Now Katniss must volunteer to take Prim's place and fight to survive the death match. Along the way, she is forced to put her trust in fellow tributes Rue and Peeta, as well as her mentor, Haymitch, in order to stay alive. When faced with killing Peeta in order to become the winner of the Games, Katniss must choose whether to murder the boy who loves her or whether to trust that he will stand by her in rebelling against the all-powerful Capitol.
ACT ONE: Opening Image | Theme Introduced | Set-Up | Catalyst | Debate |
ACT TWO: Break into Act Two | B Story | Fun and Games | Midpoint | Bad Guys Close In | All is Lost | Dark Night of the Soul |
ACT THREE: Break into Act Three | Finale | Final Image
It's a constant push-pull between hope and loss, with the B story, often the romantic line, acting as a secondary influence on the main conflict. So looking at The Hunger Games:
ACT ONE: Opening Image: Katniss wakes to find that Prim, afraid of the upcoming Reaping, has gone to cuddle with their mother. | Theme Introduced: Katniss lives in a harsh world and doesn't even trust her mother to protect them, showing her inability to let others into her life. | Set-Up: Katniss goes hunting with Gale and then they all get ready for the Reaping, which sets up the world of Panem in more detail. | Catalyst: Prim is reaped for the Hunger Games and Katniss volunteers in her place. | Debate: Faced with her new team, including Haymitch and Peeta, Katniss realizes that Peeta, in saving her sister's life earlier on, has touched her heart. She struggles to isolate herself in a situation where she will need to kill him, and she simultaneously refuses to turn her trust over to the people who are there to help her. |
ACT TWO: Break into Act Two: The Games begin and Katniss must run for her life. | B Story: Peeta's earlier confession of love for Katniss confuses her as she sees him join the Careers. She becomes friends with Rue, who reminds her of Prim. | Fun and Games: Katniss and Rue set up and enact a plot to destroy the Careers' supplies. | Midpoint: Rue is killed. Katniss, who has come to love and trust Rue, shows defiance against the Capitol by singing, covering Rue in flowers, and memorializing her with the three-finger salute. | Bad Guys Close In: The Gamemakers announce that tributes from the same District, if they both survive to the end, will be allowed to win together. Katniss must track down Peeta before anyone else finds him and play enough romance to get them sponsored gifts. | All is Lost: Peeta is dying from a terrible infection in his leg, which the Careers sliced open when he betrayed them to save Katniss. He insists that Katniss not go out into open danger in order to get him the medicine he needs. | Dark Night of the Soul: Katniss chooses to get the medicine despite the risk and nearly dies. |
ACT THREE: Break into Act Three: Peeta and Katniss are recovering from their injuries. They are the only District team still intact and are beginning to see hope that they may return home. Their 'romance' flourishes. | Finale: The Gamemakers force the remaining players into the open using dog mutts, and Peeta and Katniss must fight against Cato, the top Career. They manage to kill Cato while both remaining alive, at which point the Gamemakers tell them that only one of them will be allowed to win. Katniss, instead of killing Peeta, makes the choice to attempt a double suicide in the hopes that it'll force the Gamemakers' hand. They are both announced winners after all. | Final Image: Katniss and Peeta return home, and Katniss admits to Peeta that the romance may have been fake for her. She fears that she will face consequences for defying the Capitol.
Keep in mind that The Hunger Games is the first in a series, which means that the ending will not be as resolved as it is in completed stories. There needs to be a bit of a build again to set up the next book.
ACT ONE: Defining Moment | Inciting Incident | Call to Action |
ACT TWO: Awakening | Midpoint | Grace | Fall | Death Experience|
ACT THREE: Descent | Transformative Moment | Climax | Resolution|
So this plays out similarly to the Beat Sheet, but it keeps the lens on the personal and internal:
ACT ONE: Defining Moment: Katniss loves her little sister dearly and wants to protect her from the Reaping as well as the rest of the darkness in her world of Panem. She cannot trust others to protect them. | Inciting Incident: Katniss sacrifices herself for her little sister by volunteering for the Games, and now must murder others in order to return to her sister. However, Peeta, who once saved both their lives, has been chosen as another tribute. | Call to Action: Katniss is pushed by Haymitch and Cinna to trust her team and open herself up to the cameras so that she can get sponsors and stay alive. Peeta's public admission of love for her pushes forward the "star-crossed lovers" tactic. |
ACT TWO: Awakening: Katniss breaks trust at the beginning of the Games and refuses all help for some time, even as Peeta allies himself with the Careers in order to protect her. However, Rue breaks Katniss's boundaries and gains her affection and trust, even though Katniss doesn't want to feel any love for the people who must die so she can survive. | Midpoint: Rue's death causes Katniss to prioritize the needs of Panem's citizens over her own life, and she creates a memorial for Rue, showing that she is 'not a piece in the games', showing that Rue's life was of value, which is her first true rebellion against the Capitol and their Games. | Grace: Katniss and Peeta meet up again now that they are 'officially' allowed to be allies, and Katniss cares for him and opens herself up to the romance they're playing, even though the cameras deeply affect her awareness of it. | Fall: However, Peeta is dying from the infection in his leg and in order to save him, Katniss will have to risk her life out in the open. | Death Experience: Katniss chooses to go for the medicine and nearly dies in the process. |
ACT THREE: Descent: The end of the Games is coming, and though Peeta has partly recovered, Katniss continues to wonder if he's more of a help or a burden to her. She also is confused about their romance, and whether it's real to Peeta and to her herself. At last the finale comes and they fight Cato to the death, barely surviving themselves.| Transformational Moment: The Gamemakers tell Katniss and Peeta that only one of them will be allowed to win. Peeta offers his own life up so Katniss can live, but Katniss can't bear to break the trust that they have created. She chooses to risk her own life, trusting Peeta to do the same, in an act of rebellion against the Capitol that may allow them both to survive. | Climax: Katniss and Peeta put the nightlock berries in their mouths and the Gamemakers stop them, allowing them both to be victors. | Resolution: Katniss and Peeta return home to District 12, but Katniss fears the consequences of her actions. She knows that she has put the people she cares about in danger by rebelling. She admits to Peeta that, in the end, she's not sure whether the romance between them was real or not, thus breaking the very trust that she had wanted to preserve.
Again, you see the uptick during the Resolution to set up the next book.
Thanks for reading! I'll see you again Tuesday.
Images via illiteratebooks.com, atlantaladylitwits.wordpress.com, and pop-verse.com.